Some days you feel like a…

Yesterday was an emotionally terrible day. I felt like a hollow man. Nothing seemed to have any value or meaning to me. Many things conspired against my mood, making it seem to me as if any elevated mood I had up to then must have been just a masterful fa├žade. Just felt empty.

The first day after the end of a pleasant vacation with Sheila, my girlfriend. First day back to work. Counseling and consoling some around me. But I think it was that I had none of the close companionship I had enjoyed on our trip since last Wednesday. None of the feeling of “normalcy” that came with it.

But today, I have a fresh perspective. I’ve clawed my way most of the way up from that pit, and have been able to label those things that caused that (thankfully) brief slide into deep depression.

I have most of my clocks set to display time in 24 hour format. This is a reminder to me that each new day is also a new beginning; a new opportunity to live. Each day as the clock moves from 2359 to 0000, I try to push all that I’ve gathered from the prior day out and start anew. Successful all the time? Absolutely not – but it gives me perspective. And it is that perspective that lets me heal myself from such dark, troubling days.

Sorry if yesterday’s post scared anyone.

Yup. It was the vitamins.

So, a workweek out from eliminating the magnesium from my morning vitamins, and my mood has definitely improved. I even woke up with my alarm today and didn’t snooze it. That, my friends, is significant. So, going forward, no more magnesium. Suspicion has been confirmed; I don’t need to try that again: depression needs no help!

Jillian has completed her finals and her last day of school is behind her. My baby girl is graduating high school. Wow. I’ll miss her sitting at the kitchen table for her remote learning, and listening to her interact with her classes. I’ll miss helping her with her homework, particularly her French and her math classes. Mostly, I’ll miss the comfort her company each week has been to me. Maybe she’ll start college courses soon, and they’ll be remote. That thought is a bit selfish, though: on-campus classes would probably be better for her. And, I know she wants to get a job, too, so there’s that. I guess it’s time for me to put my “big boy pants” on, and learn to deal with being alone for longer periods of time than I’ve experienced to date. It’s not that I never have before – being on vehicle program launch is a lonely gig – it’s that I’ve always had Kim to call or text or IM in those instances. There’s something about just knowing there is someone open to your call no matter what or when that made it bearable; someone who is the other half of your collective whole.

I know it is probably not a near-term thing, but this has brought on thoughts of “What am I going to do with this place?” I mean, it’s already way too much house for the three of us living in it today; when Kenny and Jillian have moved out, what will I do? Even if I were to remarry, this is too much house for two people – and who needs so many guest rooms? Plus, so much is invested into this house – not just financially: over half of my life was spent here. The kids were all born and raised in this house. The first family pets. All the birthday parties, the first steps, the Halloweens, the Christmases, First Communions… the memories. This house and its occupants were my final destination for each and every trip I took for Ford Motor Company, for hunting, or when we vacationed: it is home.

Sigh.

I know I would be happier somewhere outside of Canton, and definitely happier outside of Wayne County. I would love to have a place with water and enough land to hunt and fish as I please and to have room for an out-building to contain all of my tools and hobby equipment. And, getting older, at some point the stairs may become an issue… But this is home, and the thought of leaving is not a pleasant one. I think leaving here would feel like breaking up with someone you love – breaking up badly as you lose all access to it.

Oddly, I’m now thinking of Kim’s wedding gown, stored in the attic…

On a different note, for the past several weeks, I’ve looked up at the clouds I can see passing the patio window where my remote office is set up, and have noticed a cardinal landing on a rail near to it in plain view from where I’m sitting. The rail is the top of the patio gazebo, a few feet from the glass. He usually flies in, directly along my line of sight, coming toward me, and always just as I look up to see the clouds passing by. He lands and looks into the family room as if he’s looking for something before flying off – usually because I’ve gone to the window to get a closer look.

Some say that the cardinal is the sign of a deceased loved one coming to check on you. A comforting thought. I wish, if that’s true, she’d come in and talk for a while.

I miss her.

As I look out my window, I see a hawk wheeling about in front of some incredibly complex clouds and blue skies. Beautiful.

He’d better not eat my cardinal…

Marker is set

Upon arriving at Kim’s grave after Mass today, I found that they have installed the marker and have planted grass seed over her. The marker is in place. This put my emotional state into a power dive. Odd. She’s been gone almost 5 months, yet the marker being set lends such an air of finality. It’s as if seeing it in the ground, my mind says “Yup. It’s not a mistake. You’re not dreaming. She’s gone.”

I keep remembering little things. Our first campout with Jeanette over the 4th of July with a dog who was terrified of fireworks and a brand new tent that leaked in the rain. Stopping at Busch’s in Pinckney after Mass on a camping outing probably 10 years later to pick up a few things we had forgotten – it was my first visit to a Busch’s store and I remember marveling, to Kim’s flustered enjoyment (she wanted to get her things and get out of there…), at the variety of produce and cheeses and breads… Our many trips to the lake lot both before and after we were married – BC: Before Children – return often. Like the time we went out fishing on my birthday in the boat we’d bought that summer… My mind rebels at each one. “How can it possibly be over? How could this have happened?” And I remember her in her bed that last day, dead. How I woke at 2:48 am on that Tuesday morning, ostensibly because I had to use the bathroom, but I think I must have sensed her passing – she was still warm, even her fingers. How I wish she could have had a miracle – even as “bad” as life with her seemed to be prior to her diagnosis, struggling to cope with her alcoholism and depression, it was still better than I find this life without her to be. The desolation that often swamps my thoughts, no matter what I may have to look forward to or to be grateful for is… paralyzing. I know my family doesn’t understand this paralysis, this disdain for being dragged out of the house – my sanctuary.

I wonder how often my psyche will take these dives? This one has been settling in for some time and doesn’t seem to be alleviating. Not even cloud gazing makes me smile at the moment. I just feel so lost. When I get like this, I just want to be alone, but I fear being alone will only deepen the depression, and I never again want to go into that particular pit.

I pray that those reading who have not lost their spouse don’t. And for those who have, you can probably expect this emotional rollercoaster I’ve been on to be yours as well. It has been better. I expect it will be better again. and I’m hoping that these valleys become less frequent as this voyage through loss continues…

Another week…

This week was spent in a training program at work (you can teach us old dogs new tricks..). It’s for a software package we use to assess the dimensional variability in assemblies – I’ve used the output of this type of software for 30 years but had never been trained in running the analysis myself. Until now. It really will have little impact on me in this career but may offer options for my upcoming “retirement” career.

That’s pretty much the highpoint of the week, though – that, and I moved all of the desks I had bought into my office and leveled them. I think this will work out well, though I have to figure out some “under desk” storage for all of the accoutrements of the various equipment I will be using in there. And remove the rest of the “stuff” that got “stored” in there while I was on launch…

I did have at least one dream with Kim in it this week, but that’s the most apt description for these weird episodes – Kim is there, but we really don’t interact, and the dreams are just weird.

I blame the stupid and archaic “spring forward,” but I’ve not felt anywhere as rested as I had in the months prior, and have been generally “out of sorts” ever since.

Pile onto this my mom calling today to ask me to bring forbidden candy to her tomorrow… Honestly: when you’re on the cusp of 90, you should be able to do whatever you like; however, I’m not the one who runs to the hospital with her with the health issue candy may be contributing to. But it does lay the guilt on me when she does that and I have to say no.

Sigh. It’s the weekend. Yay.

First date

Today is the anniversary of our first date; its first occurrence after losing Kim. I expected it to be a hard day, and, so far: it’s delivering. Everything so far has been tinged with sadness, and I’m afraid for the first time since she left that I might be slipping into depression.

Part of this, I think, is that I’m no longer having the regularly scheduled interfaces with real, live human beings that were occurring with my vestibular therapy. I may need to seek out a “grief group” or some other means of regular social contact. But, on the other hand, if it is not an “enforced” thing like the PT was, will I feel motivated to leave the house? Catch-22: two opposing manifestations of my grief response – a need for social contact, and a reluctance to leave the house…

A change at work isn’t helping, either, with recent shifts of management. Based on those changes, I fear the “people first” attitude that has prevailed since I joined this department last January is going to be a thing of the past. Hopefully, I’m wrong.

Doran, Kim’s oldest brother, is in town and will be stopping in this afternoon. Maybe that will perk me up.

In any case, and as always, I rely on these words to pull me through today and to help me to find a bright spot: Jesus, I trust in You.

From the mouths of babes…

My youngest, Jillian, and I were having a rather frank discussion about friendship, school, religion, and then Kim. I told her that Kim was depressed most of her life. REALLY depressed. But I didn’t know if that depression was driven by my job that made me an absentee father and husband most of the time, or, another facet: when we met, Kim was all of about 115 pounds. Maybe 110. After each child, she found the weight harder to lose. Kim’s body image, I believe was another source of depression, if not the predominant source. Oddly, though, looking back on some pictures, it is clear at some points in time she was really heavy (as is typical with married couples: so was I!), neither Jillian nor I could think of a time of ever thinking of her as “fat.” But I know she was unhappy with herself.

I also have a lot of “perfectionist” tendencies, and a teacher’s heart, I guess. When I see something going sideways (which could simply mean “not as I would do it”), I’m not shy about pointing out a “better” way to get it done. This led to Kim thinking she could do nothing right, no matter how often I explained that there was nothing wrong with the way she was doing it; just offering a different perspective. And just like a hound dog can’t help but bark at the squirrel, I just couldn’t seem to not do it.

Kim’s depression led to a problem with alcohol. Alcoholism. And, assuming her body was the major source of her depression, her choice of alcohol – Labatt’s beer – didn’t help, as the empty calories from that just added on more weight.

Lots of little things like that fed the demons that chased her.

With this in mind, I made the comment about Kim’s depression and stated that she didn’t have a very happy life. That was the focus of the conversation until I related the cream of celery soup story to Jillian and my conviction that there is a God, and that He listens. I included the comment about not knowing His mind or why He would help me with the soup, but not by curing Kim. (And choked up a bit.) And then the gold nuggets began spilling from her mouth, to wit (paraphrasing a bit since my memory didn’t capture it word for word, but the gist is the same):

Mom’s diagnosis brought the family together; made us closer. Mom liked that. I think God was saying to her that He didn’t like this either, but it has a purpose that she would like, and that she can look down on us and see how much closer we all are, and how much a part of each other we are now. He told her her suffering wouldn’t be that long, but the results would last.”

I agree. And I couldn’t have said it better myself. Such a great perspective!

Empathy

Feeling how I’ve felt since Kim’s diagnosis: how did she feel? This is a thought that nags at me. Knowing the ultimate outcome, how did she keep her spirits up as she appeared to do? I know there were a lot of “last times” she rushed for – cream of celery soup (there’s an interesting story there), her deceased mom’s macaroni and cheese with tomatoes, lots of walks with me – something we loved to do, but something that, prior, things always seemed to interfere with. Walks with Jillian through the nature trails. Visiting her horses. Finishing the quilts she had planned for the kids’ Christmas presents. And finishing her own lap quilt for those winter chemo appointments that never came to be. So many things to do.

During our remaining time, I would generally be up and about between 6 and 6:30 to prepare for my work-at-home day. She would usually not be up before 8:00. Sometimes earlier, sometimes later – it depended on when she went to bed, and that depended a lot on her medications and chemo cycles.

Our means of communication when she woke up and needed help was text messaging. Usually things along the lines of helping her dress after a shower, helping put her shoes and socks on – stuff like that, because bending down wasn’t easy with the ascites, and putting socks and shoes on wasn’t easy with the swelling in her legs. Sometimes there were other issues I’d have to help her with, but the majority was pretty mundane. Through all of that time, I can only remember a handful of days where she said she felt depressed, or she wanted to cry. Me? My emotions were raw, and I would break down often, especially when discussing hospice, funerals, gravestones, and the like. (We prayed and prayed for that miracle, but we prepared for the event it was not received. I guess that’s how it’s done.)

Did Kim internalize her grief? I hate the thought of that; of her torturing herself over it in silence. Once you go through a bout of clinical depression, you build incredible empathy towards those doing similar. Kim had depression issues for much of our marriage, intensified, if not brought on by, my globe-trotting career.

Depression makes you feel trapped and hopeless. Knowing someone you love is depressed, and not knowing how to help pull them out of it leaves you feeling helpless and useless.

Oh – that cream of celery soup. That was about a week after Kim’s diagnosis, during all of the COVID grocery store frenzy. Kim wanted cream of celery soup. Ever since I’ve known her, one of her favorite comfort foods was cream of celery soup with wide egg noodles.

So, I went out to get her some. Store after wiped out store and nobody had it. I stopped, finally, at the local Busch’s Market. No soup. I was beaten. I walked into another aisle, praying “God, please! Kim wants this. Please let’s not disappoint her!” On an impulse, I went just one more time down the soup aisle, and, lo and behold: the rack now had two full rows of soup. I picked a can up, and sure enough: Campbells’ cream of celery! I grabbed all of them, and a couple of bags of wide egg noodles, and checked out…

Do you believe there’s a God in heaven that hears our prayers? I do. I don’t claim to know His mind – for instance: why would He help me find Kim’s soup, but not answer our prayers for a cure? – but I know He’s there, and He’s listening. He shows up in little ways sometimes.

Sad food?

Yesterday, my youngest was craving a meal that Kim used to “throw together” in a ginormous frypan. Kim was going to show her how to make it, but, for whatever reason, that lesson never occurred. So, based on what we remembered was in the meal, we ventured to the grocery store (and were dismayed to find them actively remodeling it…) and bought zucchini, yellow squash, diced tomatoes, tomato sauce, and chicken tenders. I thought some extra fiber and protein would be nice, so I added a can of light kidney beans and a can of great northern beans to the cart.

I put the meal together as I remembered Kim would do, chopping the onion, slicing the squashes, cubing the chicken, tossing everything into the pan, and bringing it to heat. I seasoned it as it cooked until what I tasted triggered my chef’s memory of what Kim’s rendition tasted like. It was very close. And that triggered a tidal wave of emotion I didn’t expect – one that stayed with me into today, as I’ve struggled with, for instance, answering a text to the affirmative with the phrase “Yea, verily!” which led to a memory of the Danny Kaye movie The Court Jester, which we enjoyed long ago (much to the surprise of my youngest son at the time – he didn’t want to watch it, and ended up mesmerized by it! One of his favorites to this day.) – but, more pertinent to this telling, a movie that my youngest son and I watched as we sat at dinner in March of 2020 while Kim was in Florida with her dad and sister – the last trip she took without the specter of cancer hanging over her; the trip where she began to acknowledge that her “ulcer” was getting worse.

And, later, my youngest daughter was in need of colored pencils for her art class. Kim was very, very artistic; very talented. And I knew that she had colored pencils in the bag she took to her chemotherapy sessions – a lavender cloth tote bag embroidered, simply “Chemo Shit.” Well, sorting through that bag yielded another flood of heartache. All her adult coloring books – most unfinished, some not started. Her puzzle books. A sketch pad. A couple of drawings from our granddaughter with the phrase “I love you Gramma I hop you fell betr” – one depicting Kim as an angel handing something to her – eerily prescient of the angel handing an unseen person a rose as depicted on the thank you cards from Kim’s funeral.

I’m finding lots of weird little triggers like that. Seemingly innocuous activities that will set me travelling down the road of sadness; sometimes at breakneck speed…

I messaged with the husband of the woman to whom I gave Kim’s horse, Roxy, today. Roxy is doing very well with them and seems to have adopted her new mistress. This is a testament to all the work Kim did with that once easily spooked, shy horse. And they absolutely love her. I made the right choice there.

Kim had wanted her sister to take the horse for her niece, and her sister told Kim that they would. After Kim passed was when I was told they couldn’t afford to take the horse as the farm where her niece’s horse was stabled was full, and her sister just didn’t have the heart to tell Kim that. I only discovered this by accident when I contacted the barn, and they told me not to worry: they were finding a good home for Roxy. Thank goodness I made that call! Though I’m sure Roxy would have been fine with whomever the farm found to place her with – they’re good people whom Kim trusted and I trust as well – Kim really wanted Roxy to go to someone she knew and respected. The woman to whom I gave Roxy used to ride Bert with Kim back in the day, until her husband’s job pulled them out of Michigan (he and I were good friends, too – and would brew beer together as often as we could). They’re back, they have taken Roxy, and I think Kim would be very, very happy with this decision. In any case, his message was that he’s not a horse person, and even he is enamored with Roxy; that she has given him what Kim used to call a “horse hug.” Again: the right decision was made.

I’ve also heard back from an old friend who lost his wife under similar circumstances over seven years ago. He told me that the hole in your heart never fills. He has found someone he loves who he has now been with for several years, but she doesn’t replace his first wife, nor fill the place in his heart she held. I can see that. The hole in mine is fresh and raw, but I honestly don’t see how it can be filled. It’s huge.

And, finally, an old friend from work who had been battling lung cancer for as long as I can remember finally gave up on all the chemo and radiation in December, about a week after Kim left us. He passed yesterday. I was sure that, if anyone, he would beat it. He seemed to be doing so well.

Sometimes it comes at you in buckets.

A different kind of Sunday morning

Today was different for a couple of reasons. Normally, my youngest daughter and I will go to 8:00 mass, then over to my father-in-law’s house. From there, we go, with dad, to the cemetery to visit Kim’s grave, and her mother’s, right next to her. But this week, dad is on the way to Florida with his son, and my granddaughter was with me since my oldest had to work last night.

Plus, we were planning to go to Gramma Sue’s for brunch after it all. So, we went to 8:00 mass as usual, but with my granddaughter in tow; then returned home to putz around for a while, going to the cemetery in the late morning. What a difference that made for traffic!

In any case, the deer did not do much damage this week. Since it hadn’t snowed in a while, I guess they had enough exposed browse to forgo the pine boughs on all the grave blankets and other winter decor on the graves, and I didn’t have to retrieve the blanket and put it back on her grave. But I did pry some stones out of the frozen mound over Kim. My youngest boy had done this when his grandmother passed a year ago last August – I guess a keepsake of sorts. When Kim was buried, there weren’t a lot of stones evident, and, with the cold, COVID, masks and all the activity in setting the flowers and such after the earth was put back in place, it was difficult for him to find any. I’ll clean them up and give them to him later. Maybe keep one for myself – I’ll put it at the base of one of Kim’s plants that I’m trying to keep alive.

Funny – there were a lot of peace lilies delivered to the visitation at the funeral home. When I moved out of my parents’ house into the apartment Kim and I would share after we were married, she bought a big peace lily plant for the apartment and admonished me not to kill it (it was a challenge: I’m terrible with plants.). So, we began our life together with a peace lily, and our life together ended with peace lilies. One of Kim’s plants I’m trying to keep alive in her craft room is also a peace lily. I guess I’ll put the stones at the base of that one.

Well, I can’t say I was jumping for joy at all today, but I think my mood was a little lighter after the visit. Still won’t get any participation awards from anything…

Tough day.

For some odd reason, today was very hard for me. I just didn’t want to get out of bed, and then, after I did, I just felt melancholy all day, and couldn’t put my finger on why. There were no obvious triggers. Just…. blah.

I don’t think I’ve had a day like this. It is the first time when just the act of waking up made me feel sad. I can’t blame not having to work, as I was on vacation for the entire month after Kim passed away. Come to think of it, I was a bit out of sorts the night before. Maybe it was the “Family Friday” that got me? I just wanted to be alone; or, at least, I didn’t want to participate. I thought maybe I was coming down with something, but I don’t feel my health is off today.

I think this is something I’ll probably have to deal with now and again. I miss Kim terribly, and, I think, every now and again, it is just going to spill over and set the tone for the day without any obvious trigger.

Maybe I’m not doing as well against depression as I think I am. Time will tell. I find that I do not want to go out of the house – opposite what I’ve read on some other widowers’ blogs I’ve come across: most want to get away from the home they’d shared with their departed spouse – one I read of went to the point of selling the home and moving to another state! Not me. I want to be here, though there is a coldness about the place – especially when I return from somewhere else.

Today, I visited my mother.

Before Kim got sick, I would go to my mom’s every morning before work with coffee for her. Even after COVID sent us all home, I’d make the trip there, and, instead of continuing east afterward to go to my office, I’d turn around and head back west to my home. I stopped doing that when Kim got sick as I needed to focus there. Instead, I’d go on Saturday (usually with Kim) and bring mom enough coffee to heat up in that microwave to last her the week. Once Kim couldn’t travel, any thought of that ended. But, before that occurred, though, mom had an episode that meant she would have home healthcare people in her home with her every day – again: God sees to it. I do my best to get out every Saturday to see her. I don’t think anyone realizes the effort it seems to take now, though. And I cannot put a finger on why it is so damned difficult or unsavory to leave the house. Like I said: I don’t think I’m doing as well against depression as I thought I was.

And, it was my niece’s wedding day. Their wedding was postponed due to COVID, and, once rescheduled, the invitations were held up in the mail for over a month. By the time most received them, it was too late to make any plans to go to Texas for the wedding. Me? I’m all travelled out. I have no desire to get on a plane or take a long car ride to anywhere – this isn’t a result of Kim passing, but a result of spending so much time away from home during my career – travel holds no allure for me. In any case, the church live-streamed her ceremony, so we got to participate at a distance – my daughter, my mother, my niece and I watched it at Mom’s house. The bride, church and ceremony were all beautiful, but I hope they didn’t pay the singer much. Wow! Reminded me of Ray Bolger as the Cowardly Lion in The Wizard of Oz – but Ray could carry a tune!

In any case: congratulations to Erin and Thomas! May you have a long, happy marriage, and may you both be in your dotage before the good Lord calls either of you home.

Tomorrow is 8:00 mass, and then a visit to Kim’s grave to set her grave blanket to rights after the deer have had their evil way with it for a week. Oddly, though I feel great sadness at her grave, I usually feel a lot better after visiting it.